Windows 7 Tips: Getting Started

Monday Oct 12th 2009 by Eric Geier
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A guide to installing Windows 7 from a USB flash drive, changing the default browser, disabling the InPrivate Browsing ability, and more.

You'll probably find Windows 7 to be faster and less annoying than Vista. However, there will likely be some things you'll want to change. This article will cover a few tweaks. But first we'll see how to install Windows 7 on computers that aren't sporting a DVD drive, like netbooks and laptops.

Install Windows 7 with a USB Flash Drive

Though Windows 7 comes on a DVD, there are ways to install it on computers not loaded with a DVD drive, such as on netbooks. One way is to load the Windows installation files onto a USB flash or hard drive from an installation DVD or an ISO CD image. Then if the computer supports booting from USB, you can boot into the installation. Alternatively, you can run setup from within the existing Windows, but you then can't make changes to the hard disk.

The first step is to backup any files on the USB drive to a different computer; not the one you're upgrading to Windows 7. This is because you'll have to wipe the drive clean.

Next you need to format the drive. Remember, this permanently erases everything from the drive. You can use the simple format utility in Windows. You can do this on the computer you're upgrading, or on a different one, to do this formatting and other preparation. You just need a working computer of some type with at least Windows XP. If you're using the installation DVD, the computer of course needs to have a DVD drive.

When you're ready to format the drive, open Computer or My Computer, right-click the icon for the drive and select Format. Choose the Quick Format option and click Start.

If you downloaded Windows 7, you need to extract the CD image file. You'll need a third-party utility such as WinRAR or PowerISO. Extract the contents of the ISO file to an accessible location.

The trick to getting the installation files onto the USB drive is to use XCopy. This is a command-line utility in Windows that you can run from the Command Prompt. It transfers the files over in a way that enables you to boot from the drive. Here's exactly how to do it:

  1. If using Windows Vista, click the Start button, type cmd, and hit Enter. If using XP, click Start, click Run, type cmd, and hit Enter.
  2. If using a CD image file, navigate to the location of the extracted files. For example, enter cd c:/path_to_file. Then you need to run the following command and hit Enter: XCOPY *.* F: /e (replacing F with correct letter for your USB drive).
  3. If using an installation DVD, run the following command and hit Enter: XCOPY D: F: /e (replacing D with correct letter for your DVD drive and F for your USB drive).
  4. Wait until all the files are transferred and then you can remove the drive.

Now you can insert the USB drive into the computer you're loading with Windows 7 and try to boot from it. Some computers automatically recognize USB drives and will start the Windows 7 installation. Some computers might require you to choose it from a boot menu by hitting F1, F12,  or another function key during the beginning of the boot. Sometimes you might even have to edit the BIOS settings to enable USB booting; try hitting F2 or other function keys at boot.

Restore the Start Menu Internet Search

As you probably know too well, Microsoft made many major changes from XP to Vista. One of these changes is the new search field on the Start Menu, which adds search capabilities and serves as an alternative to using the Run prompt. By default, Vista would search your computer for the keywords you type. Then you could click the link, Search the Internet, on the bottom of the results on the Start Menu to scour the web.

If you're a fan of this feature in Vista, however, you'll have to manually activate it in Windows 7. If you're using a the Business or Enterprise edition, all it takes is a simple Local Group Policy edit to restore the Internet search functionality. Follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button, type gpedit.msc into the search box, and hit Enter.
  2. Using the Local Group Policy Editor navigate to User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Start Menu and Taskbar.
  3. Then right click on Add Search Internet link to Start Menu and select Edit.
  4. On the edit screen select Enabled and click OK.

How-to Remove Internet Explorer from Windows 7

For many years now, Microsoft has forced Internet Explorer onto us. Finally now in Windows 7 you can uninstall their Web browser--sort of. Though you can't completely banish IE, since many Windows components use the rendering engine for web access, you can remove the actual Web browser application. Plus you won't be annoyed by IE errors that can pop up in previous versions of Windows. Then you can make Firefox, Google Chrome, or another application your lone Web browser.

Uninstalling IE doesn't even take a registry edit or hack. Microsoft added it to the Windows Features dialog, where you can add and remove Windows components. Click the Start button and open the Control Panel. Select Programs and Features and click the Turn Windows features on or off link on the left. Then uncheck the Internet Explorer 8 option and click OK.

Disable the InPrivate Browsing ability

If you keep Internet Explorer 8 installed, you'll find several new features. One of which is called InPrivate browsing. This lets users enter a protected browsing session where no history is logged. However, this capability also has its disadvantages. For example, when it comes to monitoring the Internet activity of your employees. Thankfully it doesn't have as much impact on monitoring your children since the feature is automatically disabled on Windows Vista accounts that have Parental Controls active.

You can disable the ability for users to start InPrivate browsing sessions with the Group Policy settings. However, this isn't available in Home editions of Windows. Here's how to do it in Windows 7 Business or Enterprise:

  1. Click the Start button, type gpedit.msc into the search box, and hit Enter.
  2. Using the Local Group Policy Editor navigate to Computer Configuration / Administrative Templates / Windows Components / Internet Explorer / InPrivate
  3. Then right click on Turn off InPrivate Browsing and select Edit.
  4. On the edit screen select Enabled and click OK.

Restore Quick Launch Toolbar

One of the first changes you'll notice in Windows 7 is the new taskbar--and if you're a fan of the quick launch toolbar, like me, you'll notice that it's gone. Though the new taskbar is something like a quick launch toolbar on steroids, it's just not the same. The shortcuts aren't separated from the icons of opened programs and windows. Plus shortcuts to folders and drives shortcut can’t be pinned directly on the new taskbar.

Lucky, there is a way to restore the Quick Launch toolbar. Right-click on the taskbar, select Toolbars and then click New Toolbar. Then type in the following folder location: %AppData%MicrosoftInternet ExplorerQuick Launch. Then click Select Folder.

Now you can move the toolbar to the desired location. Plus you can remove the Quick Launch label by right-clicking on it and selecting Show Title; and click Show Text to remove the shortcut names. If the taskbar is locked, right-click on it and deselect the lock option.

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